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What’s the new J-school?

December 10, 2008

With traditional print media shrinking (dying, whatever) is the traditional concept of “journalism school” outdated? I had a lot of great teachers at Central Washington University that got me ready for my career. I wonder, though; if I were to do it again, in the here and now, would I be better served by minoring in journalism and picking a major pursuant to whatever niche I wanted to report (business, environment, etc.)?

What got me thinking about this was a recent blog post by a journalism professor out in Baltimore, where the blogger laments:

One of my most promising students no longer wants to be a journalist. Same goes for five (!!!) of her friends.
They are bored by the irrelevance of today’s news. They want to participate in a noble endeavor that pays them a fair wage, but instead are forced to watch a once-profitable industry slowly die […]

My question: is it the industry or the classroom that has soured these students on the profession?

I don’t know about these kids, but as for me, it was spelled out pretty clearly that I’d be doing a whole lot of work for peanuts once I graduated. (That’s not really the case anymore, but that’s a whole ‘nother post.) I suppose that answers the first half of “Dr. Spaulding’s” question: No, it’s not the industry.

That said, I’m reluctant to say definitively that it’s the classroom. But I do think that today’s journalism students and their teachers are separated by this unfortunate snag that appeared when print stopped being as relevant and Google took over the world.

Most of what I learned in college was centered around old-school investigating — how do you request public records; what’s legal, what’s not; etc. — with little time devoted to how to use the Web. (Not that I really needed much of the latter.) Makes sense, since most of my teachers lived out their print careers in the ’70s and ’80s. That’s my point, though: I’m not really sure today’s students need four years of “fundamentals” training — they’ll pick up most of that on the job, with experience, and they already know how to use the Web. (For those who don’t, perhaps an IT major with a print minor/specialization?)

If you went to j-school: What were your experiences and what would you change if you were to re-enroll from the beginning today?

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